I have been reminiscing since our trip to the beach yesterday, one year almost to the day of this photo from last year:
Cassie last April 8, 2014 ---^
...and Cassie this April 6, 2015:
(just for the record, she cut her hair off last June to raise funds for Cops for Cancer, and has just kept chopping ever since!) :-)
We make an annual early-spring trip to the beach at Memorial Park, typically around March Break, and usually there are still bunches of ice and snow on shore, lots of little "icebergs" and plenty of sandy mud to explore. We run and squeal and goof around until we all get freezing cold soakers and then we speed home with the car seat warmers on high and ditch our cold muddy pants and socks in the washer, giggling all the way.
I seem to take the exact same photos every year, I never get tired of this view:
(Claire, 2008) :-)
Looking at last years photos triggered my trip down memory lane, the evening the girls and I went to the beach was a few days after the disfigured mole on my hip/leg had been initially removed, a missing chunk of meat and a line of stitches had kept me down and out for a few days; I did the bare minimum at work and lay on the couch the rest of the time. We had just returned from the girls three-day grade six field trip to the Outdoor Education Centre in Oliphant, and our contractor was remodeling the main floor bathroom. I had been feeling so sore and startlingly upset over the surprise mole excision, that I had neglected the girls for almost a week.
The evening of April 8, 2014, I felt well enough to get off the couch (I had no idea at the time that that was to be just the beginning of my prescribed bedrest time!) and we trucked off to the beach to check it out.
My leg was sore that evening last year, but nothing like it was yesterday. I don't have a tonne of pain at this point in my journey, it is a different kind of discomfort. I am even more clumsy than before: I tend to be tippy, especially easily thrown off when my right foot hits uneven ground. Between heavy, slow-to-react right leg, and topsy-turvy concussion symptoms, I stumbled all around the bumpy terrain on the beachy ice and mud yesterday and wiped out twice, being the record first to get the soaker!!
It was super fun, and nobody got hurt, but I couldn't help but notice how different things are now, in fact, after one of my falls Cassie walked with me and held my hand "so that you don't get another concussion Mom!" - she even asked me if I had happened to have a sip or two of tequila before we went to the beach?? HA HA Cass, NO, I did not. I just have to slow down and remember that I am not quite yet back to my mountain-goat-like graceful swan self. LOL Lymphedema alert... watch yourself on spring beach ice!
So yes, a lot can change in a year. It is now April 2015, I have been off work almost a full year (which is longer than I actually WORKED there, as I started in July 2013), the new bathroom is already showing wear and tear, and my children are old (and bold) enough to ask me if I got tipsy before taking them to the beach. *SIGH*
I do get lots of feedback regarding how long I have been on this journey, so I thought I would take a moment and chronicle it to date, put to rest any curiosity or questions:
April 1, 2014 - I had Claire at the doctor's to check on her sore throat/fever, and she saved my life. Claire said, in front of the Dr., who was until that time unaware of the mole nagging the back of my mind, "hey Mom, while we're here why don't you show Dr. your mole?" So I did. Doc immediately referred me to the surgeon in Collingwood, and Claire deserves the credit.
April 3, 2014 - I drove myself to Ambulatory Care at Collingwood Hospital, thinking I was having a consultation with a dermatologist, and I left a couple hours later missing half a pound of flesh and reeling from the apparent reactions of both surgeons who worked on my leg. I was to go back in two weeks to have the stitches removed and get results from pathology.
One day the week after-ish? - the surgeon's office called and told me I would have to have a Sentinal Node Biopsy, that the mole and surrounding tissue was positive for Melanoma. My family Doc phoned me that afternoon as well and explained more, as I cried at my desk at work, with my co-workers supportively rubbing my back and then packing me up and sending me home.
April 17, 2014, the day before Good Friday - I had my stitches removed at the Collingwood surgeons hand, and underwent a needle biopsy of a swollen lymph node in my groin area, where my abdomen meets my hip - extremely painful. Lymph node biopsies are worse than childbirth. I went home and stared into space throughout Easter weekend, afraid for my life.
My Mom came home early from their winter in Florida.
April 23, 2014 - I was lying flat on my front deck in the spring sun after work, trying to be calm, waiting for the phone to ring. My family doctor called me with news and an explanation of my biopsy results. The first thing she asked was "Who is there with you?" Nobody, but the girls were due home from school any minute. "Okay... Are you sitting down?" Mark my words, it is bad when your Dr. starts a conversation with you in that way. It was official, I was diagnosed with Stage 3b Invasive Nodular Melanoma. Right there in my kitchen.
I did not go to work the next day, except for a brief meeting with my boss to let him know what was up and that I would need some time off for the upcoming hospital visits and testing.
April 24, 2014 - I received my first call from an Oncologists' office, I was to see a team at RVH in Barrie the NEXT DAY, and on my way home I was to have my first CT scan in Collingwood. Mom and the girls accompanied me, and Mom stayed for the weekend. I also received a call from my new surgical oncologist at Sunnybrook in Toronto, I was to be there on Monday, and please bring a CD of the images from my CT scan.
April 28, 2014 - My introduction to Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Consultation with surgical oncologist, I signed consent forms for surgery and received a big envelope full of pamphlets and forms. Mom and I drove home from Toronto mostly in silence. We were told to expect a call within a couple weeks with a surgery date.
I no longer kept my frenzied work schedule, and I used what little time/energy I could give to work without bawling my head off preparing my department with plans for me to be away for a while, probably until Autumn?
May 16, 2014 - Surgery at Sunnybrook: They re-opened my mole scar and took a bunch more, thankfully I did not require the skin grafting they had prepared me for the possibility of waking up with. The second part of the surgery was what is called Node Dissection, right groin, spare you the gory details - they removed 13 lymph nodes and a bunch of who-knows-what-stuff, sending me home after an agonizing night on morphine to be on total bedrest for eight weeks. Mom stayed with us for a couple of weeks on and off, I do not remember much of it.
June 17, 2014 - I met my medical oncologist, with whom I am still partnered, she is the Boss of my clinical trial drugs for Melanoma. She explained my options to Scott and I, drawing diagrams of percentages and possibilities for my life expectancy.
June 20, 2014 - Mom and I met with the team at RVH Cancer Centre, got second opinions on the Toronto offerings. This new drug was not available in Barrie, I needed to decide how to proceed. On my own. Here's all the info.. we don't know what to do but here is what we suggest - now YOU pick!
All of July 2014 - agonizing decision-making as to how to handle the treatment of MY melanoma, while recuperating from invasive surgery. Finally decided to go with the clinical trial, and had my first CT scan at Sunnybrook, three months since my first CT scan in Collingwood.
August 11, 2014 - Had first of eight ipilimumab(Pacman) treatments at Sunnybrook. The first four treatments were three weeks apart. The next four are three months apart. (April 2015 brings my sixth treatment, July 7th, then September 8th treatment, end of this trial)
August 28, 2014 - Had an ultrasound of the neck/throat, to investigate something they saw on July CT scan.
September 17, 2014 - Had a needle biopsy of the lymph node in my throat (hateful!!) to further investigate something they saw on the August ultrasound.
One blurry day the following week - My family Dr. phoned me on a sunny afternoon, "Who is there with you? ...Are you sitting down?" I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer, it had spread to the lymph node(s), I needed surgery and would be immediately referred to the best Head & Neck Oncological Surgeon/Specialist at Sunnybrook.
Guess I was not destined to return to work in the Fall.
September 27, 2014 - I started this blog. I could no longer keep up with all of the information I wanted to share, email and text messages weren't cutting it for response to all of the amazing support and TLC my family and I were receiving, and I was more than ever allergic to talking on the phone. I wanted to express myself by writing... my old standby. In consultation with my appreciated blogging/writer friend, I named the Impatient Patient Momma and was gifted this fantastic logo/image (in case you have not noticed it at the bottom of this page). Thank you, S:
December 3, 2014 - I had surgery in Toronto, a full Thyroidectomy, and they removed two of four parathyroid, and 37 lymph nodes from my throat and neck.
Spent Christmas spoiled by many family and friends, resting, recovering. January and February: licking my wounds, adjusting to all of the changes in my body in the last year, and...
Fast forward to March 23, 2015 when I had my Radioactive Iodine Treatment for thyroid cancer, and you know the rest.... Here we are!
I'm not sure what the next year will bring, but I have no doubt it will be eventful and interesting! I will be keeping you posted, thank you for being there for me. I appreciate all of the support I receive, immeasurably!!
Article & Photos © Natalie Richardson 2015